Take This Burden From My Heart

Take This Burden From My Heart

Five minutes after the coffee shop opened, Lori was there, sipping her oatmilk cappuccino, allowing herself to relax a little after a very trying night. Only a minute later the door swung open, letting in a blast of cold air and Morris Walters. Lori tensed up again.

Morris was more hard work than anyone she knew. He was tense, inarticulate, unattractive. Here he was loudly ordering a salted caramel latte and a bacon sandwich. (How can anyone think those things go together, especially at ten past eight in the morning, Lori thought, keeping her eyes down, tearing a piece off her croissant and spreading apricot jam on it.)

The worst happened. Though she did not once make eye contact and radiated her most hostile body language, Morris came over to her table.

‘Hi, Lori, can I sit with you?’

(No!) She looked up at him, then slowly around the empty coffee shop and back at Morris. He smiled at her, lips trembling, panic in his eyes. Defeated, she made a brief gesture at the empty seat across from her and he sat down. A moment later he emptied a sachet of sugar into his already too-sweet latte.

He seemed more nervous than usual, his hands shaking as he stirred his drink. Lori always found his intense nervousness unbearable. Also, his nose was too big and his lips too thin. Lori’s better self put in an unwelcome appearance, telling her that he could not help his physiognomy or his emotional state, and that she might make him more nervous with her too-judgemental attitude.

He did have very neat ears, she thought. Perhaps if I only look at his ears, he will be more bearable.

He took a huge bite of his bacon sandwich and washed it down with a gulp of latte.

‘You look tired,’ he said, without actually looking at Lori.

‘I’ve been up all night,’ she said, ‘helping out a friend. I’ll have to go soon, so that I can get some sleep before I have to lead tonight’s Ghost Walk.”

‘Should you be drinking coffee then?’

‘It’s decaf,’ she said. Not that it’s any of your business, she thought, her better self in retreat.

‘You help out a lot of people.’

She shrugged, thinking that if she did not actually speak he might stop trying to have a conversation. No such luck.

‘Would you help me?’

Damn. She was so tired, but here was Better Self running to the fore again. She tried to keep her mouth shut by plugging it with a large piece of croissant, but mumbled through the crumbs, ‘What do you need help with?’

He flushed bright red.

‘You can tell me,’ she said, opening her right hand palm up in a gesture of friendly invitation. Morris swiftly reached forward and pierced something into the palm of her hand.

‘Ow! What?’ she cried.

Morris jumped up, drank off the last of his latte and grabbed his bacon sandwich.

‘Sorry sorry,’ he said, and ran out of the coffee shop.

The barista looked over at Lori, who was nursing her injured hand and cursing, then looked away again, bored.

In the centre of Lori’s palm was stuck a large thorn, her blood oozing out around it. She pulled it out. Not a thorn, but a small animal claw, maybe a cat’s, with what looked like tiny runes written on it in black. Dropping it on the table, she ran to the toilet to wash the wound.

Her hand bandaged in toilet paper, she grabbed her bag and turned to leave, then went back to pick up the claw, wrapping it in a paper napkin.

Back at home in her own bathroom, she anointed the injury with antiseptic cream and put a small plaster over it. It was only a little thing, after all, but it hurt like hell. What if it got infected, or worse, gangrenous?

Where had that come from? She laughed and turned to leave the bathroom, and was frozen rigid with fear. A spider was between her and the door, making its way across the bath mat on long spindly legs the thickness of a hair.

She had climbed up onto the side of the bath and was hyperventilating before she could think. And then she thought: Wait a minute, I’m not afraid of spiders. Still, it took an act of extreme will to get down, pull the bath mat and its spidery passenger out of the way, and get out of the bathroom.

Some hours later, the alarm went off in time for Lori to get up, have something to eat and change into costume for the evening’s Ghost Walk, all the while imagining spiders creeping up on her. (There were many spiders in her flat.)

As soon as she left, she felt anxiety twisting in her stomach. What if no-one liked her performance tonight, if they all thought the whole thing was ridiculous rubbish and demanded their money back?

She stopped in the street, breathed deeply, and thought about these new crushing fears. They were not hers, she knew that. Some were fears she had never had, others were things she had conquered years ago. She smashed them down hard and got on with the evening’s work.

The ghost walk went off well, the suppressed hysteria in her delivery adding to the drama. When it was over, she paid a visit to an old friend, who examined the claw and the tiny runes, confirming Lori’s conclusions, and giving her a little advice.

A few enquiries got her Morris’s address and by midnight she was banging on his door. He took a long time to answer. When he saw who it was, he tried to slam the door shut, but she shouldered it open, her anger making her strong.

She held up the claw between finger and thumb.

‘You gave me all your fears,’ she said.

Looking into his eyes, she could see that he had already changed. He could meet her angry stare, and all his nervy movements were gone. He could stand his ground. His nose was still too big, but the line of his lips was no longer pulled so thin.

‘What are you going to do?’ he asked.

Better Self whispered in her ear.

‘No-one lives long totally without fear, Morris,’ she said, ‘so I’m going to do you a favour, and just give you one fear to live with.’

With a quick swipe she caught him across the chin with the tiny claw. He yelped and jumped backwards.

‘Be very afraid of me,’ she said. ‘If I see you again I will probably do you severe damage.’

‘I’m leaving town,’ he said. ‘I just needed the courage to go.’

‘Good’ she said, and before she gave into the urge to give him a good kicking, Lori turned away, tucking the claw into her pocket.

‘You should have asked properly,’ she muttered.

‘I know,’ he said, ‘but I was too afraid.’

Back at home, while her better self was looking the other way, Lori used the bit of blood on the tip of the claw to send Morris back his fear of spiders.



The painting breathed out an air of chill misery.

I have stayed in many a B&B in my travels from auction to auction, so have seen enough bad art to last me three or four lifetimes, but this was something different. It was beautifully painted in shades of grey, the only colour being an out of place streak of red.

The subject of the painting was a house on the corner of a lane. Leafless trees stood along the left hand side of the road, gaunt in their winter sleep. On the right stood the house. It seemed to have turned away from the viewer, grey walls punctuated by four small dark grey windows, no door in sight. Between house and road stood a low stone wall with a deep dark crack in the centre of it. The road was streaked with snow and that short thin brushstroke of scarlet. Frost picked out the lines of the roof tiles.

I shivered. It was winter now, perhaps in summer the painting would be pleasingly cool, but I could not understand why anyone would hang such a painting in a bedroom, and why anyone would paint it in the first place.

For me, though, the most disturbing thing about the painting was the familiarity of the scene. I knew that I had seen that place, that house, before. I also knew that I had not.

My dreams that night were disturbing and left me feeling disoriented, even though all memory of them faded as soon as I woke.

A husband and wife ran the B&B, and at breakfast I asked Mrs Blake about the painting.

‘It’s by a local artist,’ she said. ‘Do you like it?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘That is, it’s very well done, but somewhat bleak. Does it show a local scene?’

‘Yes, it’s a house near the end of Catsbritch Lane. It’s still standing.’


She laughed.

‘It’s a very old name. No-one knows what its origin is.’

‘And the artist?’

‘Nora Logan. She died in the ‘90s, but a lot of people have her paintings around here. I know the one in your room is very wintery, but it’s atmospheric, don’t you think?’

‘It is indeed.’

An atmosphere of deep cold and gloom.

Though I deal in paintings, Nora Logan was a name unknown to me. From the single painting I had seen it was obvious that she had considerable talent. Perhaps I might discover her for the Art market. Some research was in order.

The internet knew nothing about her either.

I went to the auction I had come to Shuckleigh for and bought a couple of nice pieces. Afterwards, as I was waiting to collect my lots, I had the opportunity to corner one of the auctioneers and ask him about Nora Logan.

‘Oh yes,’ he said, ‘she was quite well known in the town. A lot of people have her paintings, but they never sell them. She used to give them away. One day she would turn up on your doorstep with a canvas she’d painted for you. Apparently they are very personal items, I’m not sure why. I’ve seen a few. Very good, all of them, but strange.’

The local librarian gave me a summary of Logan’s life — nothing of note; wife, mother, grandmother, the usual progress. The only thing interesting about the woman was her self-taught skill with a paintbrush.

Tired, I went back to the B&B and extended my stay for another day. While I was paying in advance for my room, I asked Mrs Blake about the painting and the artist.

‘She gave it to my grandmother. Just turned up one day without a word of explanation and handed it over. Worried my Grandparents no end because generally speaking there was always something significant in the painting for the person who got it — and it wasn’t often a good thing. But as far as I know they never did see anything in it for them. Grandma left it to me because she knew my Mum didn’t want it and you can’t just throw a thing like that away, can you?’

Mrs Blake knew of others who had Nora Logan paintings and she said she would ask if anyone wanted to sell.

That evening in my room, I contemplated the painting and the powerful feeling of recognition it gave me. I supposed that I must have been somewhere like it in the past, but I could not bring the memory into the light. Perhaps it was nothing more than the emotional effect of the painting, some magic in the harmony of the tones, the near absence of colour and a sense of sorrow in the lonely house with its cracked front wall, failing to protect it from the intrusive eye of the viewer.

The following morning Mrs Blake told me that none of the people she had contacted were willing to sell their paintings.

‘It’s as I thought,’ she said. ‘They’re not to be sold, only given as gifts, as Nora gave them herself. I think people believe it would be ill luck to take money for them.’

‘Do you believe that?’

She smiled and shrugged, so I think she does.

I am perfectly willing to be ruthless in my pursuit of profit, but in this case I sensed my dreams of introducing a new artist to the market fading rapidly. I decided to let the idea go, and left the B&B that morning.

Shuckleigh is an odd and confusing town, and I took a wrong turning on my way out, driving down a long straight lane past a small development of ugly new houses and out into the country. There was nowhere to turn on the narrow road, so I just kept going, possibly a little too fast for the frosty conditions. Though I was paying no particular attention to the uninspiring view of gaunt, leafless trees, a sudden shock of recognition hit me. A bend was approaching, and on the corner stood a grey house with a low stone wall in front of it.

Time seemed to split in two at this moment. I continued to drive along at speed, but I also took my foot off the accelerator, slowing, staring at the house. A small child darted into the road in front of me. In both of my split selves I braked and the car skidded on the icy road. The one who had recognised the house was going slowly enough to stop, the other could not. A woman ran out after the child who had stopped in front of me, eyes wide, mouth open.

There was a bump, the child was thrown into the air, the car smashed into the stone wall, my head into the side window. Or, the car fishtailed, but stopped in time, and my head thumped against the side window.

I sat behind the wheel, shivering, unable to tell which version of reality had actually happened. Then I saw the woman scoop up the shocked child, and I began to believe that things were really all right. I got out of the car, still feeling the alternative course of events in the pit of my stomach. It was hard to get my breath.

‘I’m sorry,’ said the woman. ‘Are you all right? You’ve bumped your head. He ran away, I only turned around for a second. I’m sorry.’

She kept apologising and her son began to cry.

‘I’m fine,’ I said at last. ‘Just a little delayed reaction.’

She offered to make me a cup of tea. I declined.

‘But tell me,’ I said, ‘the wall in front of your house — did it ever have a crack in it?’

‘No,’ she said, puzzled. ‘It’s older than the house and if it had ever been cracked you’d still be able to see the repair, I think.’

I walked up to the wall, remembering where the crack should have been, and found no trace of it. I wondered what else Nora Logan foretold in her paintings, and when I would ever be able to forget the alternative events she saved me from.

Things Move

Things Move

We stared up at the spoon balanced on the top edge of the mirror frame.

‘What’s it doing up there?’said Freddy

‘It’s being a spoon,’ I said, ‘but in the wrong place. The question is, Freddy, why did you put it up there?’

‘Me? I didn’t put it up there. You must have.’

‘No, not me. Why would I do that?’

‘I don’t know. I only know that I didn’t put it there.’

‘If you didn’t and I didn’t, who did?’

‘The cat?’

We both looked at the cat, asleep on the sofa, paws in the air. We agreed that he was an unlikely suspect. Mr. Socks had never shown any interest in spoons, unless they were being used to serve him food.

I pulled a chair over in front of the mirror, climbed up and got the spoon down. I thought that would be the end of it, but then there was this other problem.

‘It isn’t even one of our spoons.’

Freddy took it from me and made a face.

‘Torquay,’ he said.

I took it back. It was a cheap souvenir spoon, with a shield at the top of the handle which had a sailing ship on a white enamel background and a banner underneath in blue enamel, reading ‘Torquay.’

‘I’ve never been there,’ I said.

‘It’s nice,’ he said. ‘The English Riviera.’

‘How did it get here?’

I looked up thinking that there might be a crack in the ceiling it had fallen through, but there was no such thing. I shrugged my shoulders.

‘I’ll put it in the bag with the things for the charity shop. Unless you want to keep it.’

Freddy shook his head, and that was all we said on the matter. Freddy took the bag to the charity shop that afternoon and we forgot our little mystery.

The next day the spoon turned up in the cutlery drawer — a more reasonable place to find a spoon, but still.

‘I thought this went to the charity shop,’ I said. ‘Why did you put it in here?’

Freddy dropped the toast he was eating.

‘I didn’t,’ he said.

He came over and took it from me.
‘Are you playing tricks?’ he said.

‘I am not. Why would I do that? It’s a bloody silly trick. What’s the point of it?’

‘So who put it here?’

‘There’s you, me and the cat. It’s not me, and Mr Socks doesn’t have the energy for tricks.’

‘It isn’t me.’

‘Then who is coming into our house with strange spoons, and why?’

Neither of us had an answer to that one.

On my way to work I stopped on the bridge over the River Lost and dropped the spoon into the water, followed by a couple of pennies because I was brought up in a superstitious household, and knew that if you took a liberty with a river you had to make a payment to it, one way or another.

I should have paid more.

The river did not keep the spoon.

In the morning I was dressing when I head Freddy shriek. I ran downstairs without my trousers on and found him standing in the kitchen staring at the breakfast table. All around on the floor lay the bits and pieces we had left there the night before — some of my papers, a mug, a tulip and the vase it was sitting in, the last survivor of a bunch from a few days ago. The only thing on the table was that spoon.

Its shallow bowl was filled with water, and a scrap of water weed clung to the handle.

We stared at it for a while, then rationality took hold of Freddy at last.

‘It’s only a spoon, what are we afraid of? Just a cheap, ugly teaspoon. Fear of spoons. There’s probably a word for it.

‘Koutaliaphobia,’ I said. I had been giving all of this far too much thought.

‘You’re right,’ I said. ‘What are we afraid of? A bloody stupid spoon.’

Freddy picked it up, took it outside and dropped it into the dustbin. We had a good laugh at ourselves, and I went back upstairs to put on my trousers. Freddy found me there a minute later, staring at the bed.

The spoon. On Freddy’s pillow.

He swore more in those few seconds than I have ever heard him swear before. Grabbing the spoon, he strode to the window, opened it and hurled the thing into the garden as hard as he could.

‘And stay out!’ he yelled, slamming the window shut.

He turned back into the room and took one step away, then the window shattered behind him. when we finished screaming we saw the spoon embedded an inch deep in the ceiling above Freddy’s head.


The glazier was just finishing the new windowpane when I brought him a mug of tea (strong, two sugars). He pointed upwards.

‘Why is there a spoon in the ceiling?’ he asked.

‘Good question.’

‘Shall I pull it out for you?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘It’s best to leave it alone.”

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It’s in pretty far. I suppose it might bring the ceiling down with it.’

‘Yes indeed, it might.’

Falling Out, Falling In

Falling Out, Falling In

Lori reached out to touch the raven’s beak. Pressing it was rewarded by the sonorous tones of a bell inside the house. She knew that it was nothing more than a digital recording, but the group behind her did not, and they got quite a frisson of pleasure from the Edgar Allan Poe resonances of this somewhat over the top doorbell. A good way to start a special tour.

Arthur Enoch opened the door, applying little bit of downward pressure on the handle to ensure a loud creak from the hinges. He was dressed all in black and was quite hollow-eyed. Those hollow eyes he used to survey his visitors with a pinch of disdain.

‘Welcome,’ he said, and stood aside for them to enter.

Lori stepped through first, feeling as if she was passing through a cold waterfall. Since she had visited this house numerous times she was expecting this, and she turned to watch the group behind her. They all shivered a little but only two showed any greater reaction; Vince Smalls, a local chaos magician, and an older woman who had applied by post to come on the tour.

Vince gasped and shook himself, and the woman (Lori looked at her list, her name was Olivia Grange. The surname rang a faint bell in Lori’s mind) widened her eyes and glanced behind her. They had both been forced to leave something outside.

The door swung closed of its own accord behind the last one through. Just another bit of theatre arranged by Enoch.

‘Welcome,’ he said again, ‘to my grandfather’s house. Maxwell Enoch was definitely wickeder than Aleister Crowley, but he preferred to stay out of the newspapers.’

Arthur Enoch smiled, which had a chilling effect on all present. Lori wished he would not do it, but the sight of his very large white teeth (possibly dentures) and the twisted curve of his lips did add to the sinister atmosphere — which was what the special group had paid their large fee for.

The Enoch house was only open to visitors once or twice a year and Lori was the only guide allowed to select visitors for the privilege of the tour. Arthur Enoch had the last word on who would be allowed in from her list. She never knew what criteria he used to reject visitors. Some perfectly innocuous people applied year after year, only to be struck out by Arthur’s red pen. Why Vince Smalls had passed scrutiny, Lori could not imagine. Arthur made no secret of his contempt for Chaos Magic.

‘This is my home,’ said Arthur, ‘so I ask you to respect the rules set out in your letter of acceptance, and not to stray from the group. It would be hazardous for you to do so. Please recall that you have all signed the disclaimer and that any physical or psychic harm you suffer on these premises is your responsibility alone.’

The group nodded their heads in solemn agreement, except for Vince, who gave a short laugh. Arthur flashed him a sharp look, then smiled again, which wiped any amusement from Vince’s face. He replaced it with a tentative sneer. Old fashioned ritual magic was just a curiosity to him, he had told Lori. She looked forward to seeing how this clash of cultures would turn out, and hoped there would be no collateral damage.

Arthur led them about the ground floor of the house, which was set up as a kind of museum to his grandfather’s occult life, all the rooms kept just as they were when he was alive, down to the last book he was reading, left open and unfinished on a side table. Marginalia scribbled in green ink were visible on the open pages. Lori knew that it was a first edition of Yeats’ ‘Celtic Twilight’ and that Maxwell Enoch did not think much of it. He was a man given to despising the work of others.

Between them Arthur and Lori kept up a commentary on the rooms and the man himself. Arthur was, of course, the expert on the man, having lived in this house when Maxwell was still alive in the early 1960s, but he never gave much personal detail away. The visitors did not seem to notice, captivated as they were by the eccentric decor and the genuine relics of the master of ritual magic. There were two who were not so taken up by the experience. Vince Smalls curled his lip at the books in the library, at the stuffed chimera in the corner of the living room and at the regalia and robes in a glass display case in the hall. Olivia Grange merely looked at everything with mild interest. Lori noticed, though, how often Arthur looked at Olivia with a sharp suspicious glint in his eyes.

She noticed this too much, however, and failed to notice something else until it was too late.

They were standing before the door to the inner sanctum of Maxwell Enoch’s temple. Over the door a motto in Gothic script read ‘And The Night Shall Outlast The Day’. Arthur was describing the kind of ritual that took place behind the door — a place he refused to open up to visitors. Lori scanned the group for reactions and saw that Vince Smalls was no longer with them. She was both alarmed and furious. Arthur might never allow her to bring a group into his house again, and Vince — who knew what might happen to him?

Someone in the group asked what the meaning of the motto was and Arthur turned to look up at it. At that moment Vince appeared from a side room and joined the group, standing at the back as if he had always been there. He saw Lori glaring at him and flashed her a smile and a shrug.

‘I believe,’ Arthur was saying, ‘that it means that the time will come when the world of the imagination will rise up and conquer the dead hand of the purely rational.’

‘I don’t think so,’ said Olivia Grange.

‘Oh?’ said Arthur, ‘Do you think you have a better understanding?’

Olivia smiled at him but did not answer. Arthur narrowed his eyes.

‘Come this way, everyone. There’s coffee and cakes in the conservatory,’ he said.

He led everyone away, effectively ending the tour. Lori moved to follow the group, but Olivia laid a hand on her arm to stop her.

‘We should go with them,” Lori said.

‘Wait here with me.’ Olivia insisted, with a gentle smile.

Lori felt the protective sigil on the back of her neck begin to tingle, but she did as she was asked. A minute, a long minute, later, Arthur came back. He stared at Olivia and she smiled at him. Something clicked in Lori’s mind.

‘You aren’t related to Ruthin Grange are you?’ she asked Olivia. Maxwell Enoch and Ruthin Grange had been magical collaborators until an unexplained rift made them into implacable enemies.

‘She’s his granddaughter — are you not?’ said Arthur.

‘Yes and no,’ said Olivia, still smiling her by now infuriating smile.

‘I should go and see what the group is doing —‘ said Lori.

Arthur and Olivia each grasped one of her wrists.

‘Stay with us,’ said Arthur.

‘I should see what Vince is up to,’ said Lori, hoping to get away. She had begun to worry about sacrificial victims and the like.

‘There’s no need for concern. Smalls is the entertainment,’ said Arthur, and he smiled, and it was not benign.

Arthur and Olivia dropped their grip on Lori’s wrists and she thought that if she had any sense she ought to run for it — but curiosity made her stay.

Arthur took out a key and unlocked the inner sanctum’s door. Lori felt a little spike of excitement. No-one was ever allowed in there, but now they were all stepping through into a medium-sized pentagonal room. The floor was plain white with a small drain hole at its centre, which Lori wondered about and decided not to regard as sinister.

On each of the five walls were painted symbols. Some she recognised, others were entirely new to her, and she could make no meaning out of it at all.

Olivia looked around the room with grave interest.

‘This is where the exchange happened,’ she said, and nodded as if something was clear to her now.

‘What are you talking about?’ Arthur growled.

‘They didn’t tell you? No, I suppose Maxwell would keep it a secret.’

‘I should go,’ said Lori. Her sigil was starting to burn, never a good sign.

‘No, my dear,’ said Olivia, ‘so long as there is a witness, and a magically protected one, there will be no harm done here today. Will there, Arthur?’

‘No,’ he said. ‘Not in this place, anyway.’

‘It was,’ said Olivia, ‘an exchange of powers and of blood, or DNA, I suppose we’d call it today.”

Arthur was still angry, but he kept quiet for now.

‘Maxwell and his wife Marie, and Ruthin and his wife Gwen met here to perform a ritual that was supposed to bind their magical abilities, which would have the effect of making them the most powerful practitioners of their day. Something went wrong, of course. Being men of their time, they had failed to account for the female elements of power. Part of the ritual involved each man having sex with the wife of the other. I am not au fait with the details of the ritual, but it was at this point it came undone.’

‘Ruthin betrayed Maxwell to gain his power,’ said Arthur.

‘No, Arthur, not at all. That was what Maxwell said to explain the rift, but what actually happened was that each man’s power was transferred to the other’s wife. Marie and Gwen were transformed, and also became pregnant.’

‘No,’ said Arthur.

‘Yes. Two sons were born, your father and mine. Neither was much good as a magician, though, in spite of the circumstances of their conception. Ruthin gave up occultism to write novels and Maxwell continued — but Marie was the actual force in the family. So you see Arthur, I am Maxwell’s grandchild and you are Ruthin’s, not I.’

‘I won’t let you claim my heritage,’ said Arthur, taking up a defensive stance.

‘I don’t want it. I came here to clear away the negative forces between our families. We should do it now, and free ourselves.’

She began to take off her clothes. Arthur was transfixed for a moment, then he too began to strip.

‘Oh no,’ said Lori,’ I should go.’

They were not listening. Off came Arthur’s trousers. Lori made for the door and tried to leave, but it would not open. The key was probably in Arthur’s trousers, but they were on the other side of the room and she was unable to bring herself to turn around and witness what was happening in between.

Instead, she spent the longest eight minutes of her life examining the carvings on the door, a twisted border that she had taken for vines, but now saw that it was a hundred or more entwined naked people. The sigil on the back of her neck burned painfully as if an electric current was passing through it and she was acting as some sort of conduit. It reached a crescendo of pain, and then it was over. After that there was a brief interlude of mumbled incantations, followed by the sound of two people getting dressed. Lori only relaxed a little when Arthur came to unlock the door.

‘My grandfather carved this door,’ he said, as if he were giving the tour still.

‘Ruthin?’ said Lori, not wanting to spare his feelings.

‘Er, no. The other one.’

Arthur pursed his lips and blushed. Olivia joined them, flushed, hair tangled, beaming a radiant smile. Lori tried her very best to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary had happened and that she had not been used in a way that she did not want to examine too closely. The back of her neck was very sore and she wanted to get away from here as soon as possible. Striding ahead of Arthur and Olivia, she went straight to the conservatory to gather the group.

They were standing in a circle, looking down at someone writhing on the floor. Oh, it was Vince, of course. The others were very relieved to see her.

Vince appeared to be trying to fight something off — something quite invisible. He was making quiet noises filled with fear.

‘Arthur,’ Lori called.

Arthur came, and had a good laugh.

‘He went off by himself, didn’t he? I said it was dangerous.’

He leaned over the twisted form on the floor.

‘Give it to me,’ said Arthur.

Vince could hardly breathe, but he managed to indicate his left inside pocket. Arthur reached in and retrieved a small green talisman, slipping it into his own pocket before Lori could get a good look at it.

Whatever was attacking Vince lifted away and he slumped, breathing deeply. Lori helped him to his feet and started to walk him to the front door. Though he was shaky, he was as eager as she was to leave.

Lori counted her group out, anxious not to lose anyone. Olivia, though, was staying. She stood at the door holding hands with Arthur who looked both pleased and puzzled, like a man who had been taken up by a whirlwind and deposited on a strange shore.

Lori wished him luck, sure that he was going to need it.